Chasing stories, finding sources, building contacts — all this in the midst of cutthroat competition. The traumatic and precarious lives of journalists find a voice in Hansal Mehta’s Scoop.
Last Updated: 05.37 PM, Jun 02, 2023
In a scene from Hansal Mehta’s Scoop, streaming now on Netflix, Jagruti Pathak, played by Karishma Tanna, is on a trip to Kashmir with her family. She gets a call from a colleague who informs her about a breaking news story which requires her urgent attention. She spends the rest of her well-earned vacation chasing leads and looking for sources who are willing to speak to her, as her uncle, played by Deven Bhojani, urges her to go back to Mumbai because that is where she ought to be at the moment.
The race for frontpage byline
Be it a shootout at 12:30 am at night or a murder which happens when you are in a different state, a journalist has to be ready to spring into action and chase exclusives — the news cycle is unrelenting and it doesn’t stop for anyone. In a scene from the third episode, Jagruti tells her uncle “Out of sight means out of mind and out of job. I want to be on the front page and continue breaking big stories so I am not forgotten”. This transpires when she cuts short her Kashmir vacation and makes her way back to Mumbai. The line is very telling. Journalists have constantly put themselves under pressure to stay on the top and maintain the ‘star reporter’ status, even if it means missing big milestone events and missing out on spending time with their families.
Additionally, with the cutthroat competition between media outlets as they grapple for the bigger exclusives or a spicier story, the journalists are left with no choice but to compete with their fellow colleagues for ‘scoops’ across newsrooms, as we see in the case of Jagruti’s ‘rivalry’ with Jaideb Sen (Prosenjit Chatterjee). And this rivalry extends even within the newsroom as colleagues like Pushkar leak stories to rival media houses out of sheer jealousy. To top it off, we have editors like Leena who make the newsroom environment toxic, firing their colleagues at the drop of a hat because they failed to get a scoop, often yelling at them as the entire newsroom watches in silence.
Newsrooms, sexism and abuse
Then, of course, there is everyday sexism that many women reporters face, especially if they are working on beats, such as crime reporting, which are mostly dominated by men. The success of a female reporter is often dismissed or they are falsely accused of using their sexuality to get ahead. The show also touches briefly on the step-motherly treatment meted out to Hindi journalists and English reporters being given a preference over them. In another scene, we see a veteran Hindi journalist waiting for his turn to speak to JCP Shroff (played by a menacing-looking Harman Baweja) while Jagruti and her colleague Deepa (Tannishtha Chatterjee) get instant access.
The scheming, manipulation, and backstabbing colleagues, in addition to long working hours, less pay, and poor work-life balance are bound to take a toll on a journalist's mental health and well-being. While Scoop doesn’t really make an on-the-nose comment on the precarious and challenging lives led by journalists, it is heavily implied. The profession, which has for far too long been demonised and abused, often sucks the soul out of those who wish to see their byline on the front page. In Jagruti’s case, it leads her to Byculla jail and a lengthy prison sentence for a crime she never committed — all to protect those in power.
The silver lining in the clouds
However, amid the defeatism and hopelessness, there’s hope in Editors like Imran (Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub) who have strong ethics and stand by their reporters like a rock, instead of dumping them like Leena. When Jagruti decides to appear for an interview at a rival media house, instead of discouraging her, Imran (who also mentored her) says paise zyada maangna (ask for a big hike). Even as Jagruti is arrested and there is pressure on him from the owner of his publication to give up his pro-Jagruti stance, Imran doesn’t budge, even if that means resigning from his position as the Editor. In a telling scene, Imran says to Jagruti “It was believed that if journalism is good, it will be controversial by default. It is vice versa now”. Perhaps, Mehta, through Imran, is commenting on the sorry state of Indian journalism where corporate interests take precedence over editorial independence.
The portrayal of journalism in films
Before Mehta’s Scoop director Madhur Bandharkar’s Page 3 showed an entertainment reporter (played by Konkana Sen Sharma) risk it all to expose a child trafficking racket, only for that story to be killed by her Editor (played by Boman Irani) who received a major chunk of his advertising revenue from the molester. In No One Killed Jessica, we see Rani Mukherjee play an incorrigible Meera who conducts sting operations, questions the police and authorities and gets the public to rally in support for Jessica Lal, who was murdered by a politician’s son. Another example, though a bit outlandish in its approach, is Kartik Aaryan’s Dhamaka where we see a news anchor collude with a terrorist to increase the TRP of his channel instead of calling the cops. In the few chances where Indian filmmakers have got a chance to portray realistically the lives of journalists and their trials and tribulations, they have done a decent job.
The sorry state of Indian journalism
“We treat our readers like consumers,” says Imran as he asks his team to not victim blame Sen, who is not here to defend himself. The irony here is palpable, especially after the media trial in the Sushant Singh Rajput case in 2020 where Rhea Chakraborty was character assassinated much like Jagruti, who is accused of bearing Chotta Rajan’s child in the show.
Scoop ends with a telling statement — ”the reportage of Mumbai-underworld nexus has lessened since Sen’s death”. Then there is a montage of journalists who have either lost their lives in the line of duty, like Gauri Lankesh or been arrested for doing their job, like Sidheeq Kappan among others. Scoop is a much-needed validation for journalists who have not been given their due and suffered at the hands of the powerful, to bring news to the public and keep them informed.
Scoop is streaming now on Netflix.
(Views expressed in this piece are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent those of OTTplay)
(Deepansh Duggal writes essays, think pieces and features on films and TV shows. He tweets at @Deepansh75)